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June 20, 2012

Ann Pearlman: How I Write (guest post)

Hi! Today, I have National Book Award and Pulitzer Prize nominee Ann Pearlman guest posting. Author of several non-fiction and fiction books, her newest novel A Gift for My Sister was published in May by Atria/Emil Bestler Books. When not writing, Ann continues to be creative by making art - paintings, sculptures, and jewelry. She also enjoys being creative in the kitchen by inventing recipes. Please give a warm welcome to Ann Pearlman.

How I Write

I’m often asked how I write, how I am sufficiently disciplined to actually get books completed, so I thought I’d share some of my tricks and routines.

First, I’ve been writing since eighth grade, jonesing for the feeling I received completing an assignment. We were asked to write a thank you note for a painting our school received. The painting was of two girls sitting on a beach, behind them was the sea, stretching to the horizon. As I wrote about the sea I was transported into a sensation of taking dictation from the universe. Re-experiencing that sensation propels my writing. I write because I love it; I write because I want that feeling again. Weeks later, when I’m editing, I cannot tell which prose was awe-inspired and which was written prosaically.

For years, I didn’t have the luxury of writer’s block, stealing time to scribble notes in between my job, and running my kids around various activities after school. Each moment stolen to write was precious.

Then I discovered the glory of automatic writing: Get up early, before anyone else is up, and immediately write, do not edit yourself, just inscribe the words that come to you. The only things between dreams and writing were brushing my teeth and coffee. My language was richer so I habituated myself to write first thing in the morning. Slowly, I rescheduled my life around my writing, instead of pushing it between the edges of my other requirements of life. My kids growing up made that easier.

So I wake with the sun. I write at least five days a week. At least four hours a day. I don’t let myself be interrupted until I’ve done several hours. And then I’ll eat breakfast, answer calls, emails, twitters, etc.

Other tricks: I have words that I have forgotten, igonored in a bowl. I notice them once again in something I’ve read, write them down, and put them in a bowl. Occasionally, I pick one out to flutter (see, that was one…) into my prose.

If I get stuck, I drum. Yes, I play a Djembe hand drum and the repetitive rhythm seems to encourage ideas. So does jumping up and down on a trampoline.

I work out. This is important. After years on the computer, if I didn’t work out, do yoga, and use an ergonomically correct keyboard, I suspect I’d be crippled by carpal tunnel syndrome.

Music provides an added layer of texture to my setting. Writing Inside the Crips, I listened to the hip hop and gangsta rap ( Snoop Dog, Ice T, N.W.A. ) that set the rhythm and the texture of Colton’s life. Writing a scene that takes place in Detroit in the 70’s, I listen to the music of that time. (The Jackson 5, Aretha Franklin, Martha Reeves, ) Sometimes when I’m writing, sometimes when I’m driving or working out my ipod surrounds me with sounds that ebb the time and place into my soul. I ended up so entranced by the rhythm and rhymes of rap that Tara in A Gift for My Sister became a rap artist.

Writing is as much a part of me as breathing. Writing, even if it’s in my journal, imparts meaning to each day.

Find Ann on the web:



  1. Hi "Girl who reads", great blog!
    I've read A.Pearlman's books "The Christmas Cookie Club" and its sequel "A gift for my sister" and loved them. Both books touched me deeply.
    While reading the Christmas Cookie Club my mouth was watering (pleased I did not ruin the book's pages!!) and so the idea of starting a "baking project" came to life. If you wish, visit this link to see it.
    All the best and thanks for all the interesting posts in your blog.